The Flanders city situated close to the Belgian border is one of the most easily accessible big cities from London.
At just 1 hour 25 minutes by Eurostar train from St Pancras, it is as close as Birmingham and no disrespect to England’s second city, but the chance to experience some French ambience wins in my book.
Our main reason for going was to absorb Depeche Mode performing at Stade Pierre Mauroy, however there were plenty of pleasant things to do as we built up to the main event.
We stayed at the Grand Bellevue situated right on the cafe lined main square in the old town.
The hotel had an air of faded decadence to it (apparently a refurbishment is planned in 2018), but you could not better its location.
Grand Place is home to the opera house, theatre, Hôtel de Ville with its splendid belfry, and the ornately beautiful stock exchange (bourse) building with its shady courtyard now home to a book and magazine market selling early editions of Vogue and L’Equipe, featuring Bardot, Audrey Hepburn, Pelé and Platini on their covers.
The belfry was sadly shut for refurb, but we were invited inside the city hall to view its wonderful glass dome ceiling.
The whole old town is pretty with every building having an interesting facade. The resemblance was far more Brugues than Paris, aesthetically pleasing for sure.
Mrs Wilbur was in her element shopping wise. There were more boutiques and shoe shops than even the most avid shopaholic would need. Put it this way – we left with rather more bags than we had arrived with!
Notre Dame Cathedral was very pleasant to wander through and although we did not venture in, the old hospital turned museum was also very pleasing on the eye.
Lille also has a very fine art gallery, Le Palais Des Beaux-Arts, stuffed with Monet, El Greco, Degas and the like.
Charles De Gaulle was born in the city and his former home is now a tourist attraction. We didn’t venture there, nor the free to enter city zoo, left for a future shopping trip!
Food wise Lille did not win too many plaudits, having said that the crepes and tartines (open sandwich) were very tasty and came in generous portions.
The restaurants around Grand Place are typical tourist affairs, tough steaks and oven chips. We were very grateful to see them open after midnight when we returned from the concert however.
We caught the metro out to the concert venue named after Lille’s long serving mayor. The carriages were the narrowest I had ever seen, with room for one small row of seats only.
The concert itself was absolutely superb. I am a lifelong DM fan, but this was the first time I had seen the group live. Now in their mid-fifties, Messrs Gahan, Gore & Fletcher belted out highlights from their repertoire with gusto.
If you live anywhere near London, you should definitely put Lille on your list of destinations.
A day trip can easily be undertaken – arrive in time for lunch, a spot of shopping/sight-seeing and an evening meal before returning home. You could do this in Birmingham too of course………